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Uncle investigated in missing Vatican teen case—report

By Ella Ide / AFP Published Jul 18, 2023 1:26 pm

Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual abuse.

Rome prosecutors investigating the disappearance of a teenager 40 years ago are looking afresh at the possible involvement of her uncle following information supplied by the Vatican, Italian media reported—a move relatives rejected as a diversionary tactic. 

Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee, was last seen leaving a music class in Rome on June 22, 1983.

Decades of speculation followed over what happened to her, with suggestions that mobsters, the secret services, or a Vatican conspiracy were to blame, theories which sparked a hit Netflix series.

The Vatican has been accused of obstructing investigation efforts over the decades, but eventually launched an inquiry into its most famous cold case in January. Rome prosecutors in May then opened their own fresh probe—the third so far.

The Vatican recently passed its case files to Rome, saying they included "some lines of inquiry worthy of further investigation."

Those include a letter in which a priest told the Vatican's then secretary of state that Orlandi's older sister Natalina had revealed during confession that her uncle, Mario Meneguzzi, had sexually abused her, Italian television channel La 7 said.

Orlandi's brother Pietro, who has for years campaigned for the truth and believes the Vatican knows what happened to Emanuela, reacted angrily to the La 7 report.

"They cannot put it all on the family. I am furious," he told the news agency AdnKronos, saying the Vatican had "crossed the line" by implicating his uncle.

Natalina told the press that while her uncle had "made advances" toward her, he stopped after being rejected. "There was no rape," she said.

Orlandi said his uncle's alibi—that he was on holiday far from Rome at the time—had been established and verified.

"The Vatican is seeking to deny any form of responsibility," he said, renewing his call for a parliamentary commission to be set up.


Rome prosecutors are now reportedly looking again at Meneguzzi, who was only superficially investigated during the original probe.

Meneguzzi, who died several years ago, looked remarkably similar to an identikit drawing of a man spotted talking to Emanuela in the street after her music lesson, La 7 said.

He also played a key role in the months following her disappearance, answering the calls of the purported kidnappers, the report said.

Meneguzzi had ties to the secret service, and managed to get it to pay for a family lawyer, La 7 added.

During the first, brief investigation into him, he was also warned by the service that he was being tailed by police, it said.

Meneguzzi told investigators at the time that he was out of Rome on the day the teenager disappeared, in the village of Torano east of the capital, along with several relatives including Emanuela's father Ercole, according to the Open online newspaper.

But Ercole Orlandi told investigators on several occasions that he was not in Torano that day, but in Fiumicino, west of Rome, Open said.

The Corriere della Sera's investigative reporter Fabrizio Peronaci said he had also uncovered information that the kidnappers had insisted from the start that Meneguzzi be their point person for the ransom negotiations.

The twists and turns of the case were documented in a 2022 TV series by Netflix, Vatican Girl, though it did not look at Meneguzzi.

In the documentary, a friend claimed the teen confided the week before she disappeared to having been harassed in the Vatican gardens by a figure close to then Pope John Paul II.

Another claim often repeated in Italian media was that she was taken to force the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. (AFP)